Sometimes the best exercises for your physique are the most basic. For proof, look no further than elite gymnasts, who have some of the best bodies in the world yet rely almost entirely on body-weight exercises. “Every event in gymnastics requires mastering body-weight movements,” says Eric Daye, a trainer who specializes in gymnastics strength training.

And one of the top gymnastics moves to develop solid, functional strength is the handstand. “Anyone who’s trying to improve their physique and gain strength and athleticism, get up against a wall and do a handstand,” says Daye. Handstands require your muscles to contract isometrically while keeping you perfectly balanced. Your shoulders, back, arms, and chest bear most of your weight, and your core is crucial to maintain balance.

“Handstands are extremely underrated, mostly because people think they just can’t do them,” notes Daye. The key is to scale your progression from beginner to intermediate and advanced levels. Rather than have clients do handstands against a wall, Daye likes to have them use a box and walk their hands around the perimeter. This move, known as “around-the-worlds,” takes away some of the balancing issues, so you can focus solely on developing upper-body strength, especially for the shoulders.

Beginner (not shown)

• Begin in a pushup position with feet up on a box that’s approximately as tall as your hips.

• Walk hands toward the box until arms are aligned with your ears, and hips are directly over your shoulders. Your body should form an upside-down L shape.

• Stabilize your torso by engaging your core and leg muscles. Do not allow your low back or rib cage to sag or arch, and keep your legs straight.

• Lift your right hand off the floor to touch your right shoulder briefly, then lower and repeat with your left hand. Complete for 15 reps each side. This will help you get the feel for shifting your weight from one side to the next.

• To come out of the move, walk hands forward into a full pushup position and step or jump feet off box.


• Start as in beginner position above—feet on box in a pushup position—then walk hands in until arms are aligned with ears, and hips are directly over shoulders. Keep abs and legs engaged and don’t allow your low back or rib cage to sag or arch.

• Moving with your right then left hands, “walk” hands clockwise around box, keeping abs tight and head tucked between your arms. Continue moving around entire perimeter of box. That’s one round. Complete two to four rounds total with minimal rest between each round.

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Image credit: Edgar Artiga